A lackluster start by both teams eventually saw Ball State Men's Basketball (7-6, 0-0 MAC) jump out in the second half against Portland (8-7, 0-0 WCC) for a 61-46 win to wrap up the Diamond Head Classic.
"I think the final three minutes of the first half was our worst stretch," head coach James Whitford said. "They went on a 7-0 run and tied the game. That was one moment where I thought we let our offense affect our defense. Second half we were able to defend better for 40 minutes."
The Cardinals had a 15-6 lead with seven minutes left in the first half before the Pilots went on a 13-4 run to tie the game at 19 by halftime. It was the end of an early morning tip-off that looked like both teams were still waking up. Ball State shot for 7-30 from field goal and 2-18 from 3. Portland struggled, even more, shooting 8-24 and not making a single 3-pointer, shooting 0-8 in the first half.
Outside of scoring, both teams struggled to hold onto the ball as the combined for 18 turnovers. However, Ball State rolled off of a strong offensive showing from junior guard Ishmael El-Amin and freshman guard Luke Bumbalough, outscoring the Pilots 42-27 in the second half, for the 15 point win.
El-Amin knocked down 15 points in the second half for 18 points on the day, going 5-13 from field goal, 4-8 from outside the arc and 4-4 at the line. Bumbalough locked down from deep as well, shooting 3-9 from 3-point range and 5-10 from field goal.
"We had good shot from behind the arc the whole game," Whitford said. "They were really collapsing when the ball went inside and making it hard to score around the rim. We got some in the first half and they didn't go and you could sense our frustration."
Alongside El-Amin and Bumbalough, redshirt senior guard Josh Thompson played a helping hand with four rebounds, four assists, and five points. Thompson picked up all four of his dishes in the second half.
"Josh Thompson really was fabulous for us," Whitford said. "He provided a big lift for us off the bench, defended his tail off and it was great to see. I thought he and Ish carried us in the second half."
After going down with an injury in the first half against UTEP on Monday and sitting out the rest of the game, senior forward Kyle Mallers looked unfazed as he finished with five rebounds and three points. Senior redshirt forward Tahjai Teague had another strong showing off of eight points, five rebounds, and two assists.
A slow start eventually saw the Cardinals get going on a 12-2 run forcing a Pilots timeout with seven minutes left in the first half. The run would be followed by a scoring drought for Ball State, allowing Portland to tie the game at 19 at halftime.
The second half began in favor of the Pilots off of a 6-0 run. 6 feet 9 inch Portland forward Tahirou Diabate was a thorn in the Cardinals side early, recoding three denials in the early portion of the half. He would finish with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
However, Ball State would instantly bounce back off of 11-0, creating separation down the stretch. El-Amin and Bumbalough provided a spark from three as the team shot 8-19 from 3-point range in the second half. The second half boost would be enough for the Cardinals lucky seventh win of the season.
Ball State jumps one game above .500 and heads back to Muncie with a win. The Cardinals finish the Diamond Head Classic at 2-2, with wins over Portland and Georgia Tech, and losses to No. 21 Washington and UTEP. This is an improvement from the Cardinals' tournament finish last season as they went 1-3 at the Charleston Classic.
After a little over a week break, Ball State hosts Toledo to open up Mid-American Conference play on Jan. 3. The Rockets are coming off back-to-back losses to Kansas City and Wright State. Toledo visits Bradley on Saturday before facing the Cardinals.
"It's been a great tournament," Whitford said. "We played Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Washington at a neutral site and UTEP, who's been picked to finish at the top of its conference. It's just really good competition away from home and you get a similar format of what the conference tournament will be like on a quick turnaround."